On September 7, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) hosted a workshop to explore the state of research using nonhuman primates (NHPs) and to review existing ethical oversight of NHP research. The workshop was organized in response to a congressional request asking NIH to “conduct a review of its ethical policies and processes with respect to nonhuman primate research subjects, in consultation with outside experts, to ensure it has appropriate justification for animal research protocols.”
NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD welcomed participants and speakers, noting that NIH’s mission—to expand fundamental knowledge and use that knowledge to improve human health—also includes an obligation for the responsible use of animals. Dr. Collins stated that discussions at the workshop would inform NIH policies going forward.
Carrie Wolinetz, PhD, NIH Associate Director for Science Policy, noted that research with NHPs continues to advance our understanding of human health and disease and that NIH is committed to the health and welfare of all animals used in NIH-funded research. She expressed confidence that the current ethical oversight framework for research with all animals, including NHPs, is robust, but that periodic review is important. She also made the point that the best science is informed by good ethical thinking.
The workshop consisted of two sessions: 1) The state of the science of NIH-supported research involving NHPs and 2) The existing ethical framework. During the first session, five researchers provided examples of biomedical and behavioral research benefiting from studies involving NHPs. Examples included the need for NHPs in infectious and emerging disease research, brain research to help treat social disorders like autism, advancing fertility and infertility research, developing brain-machine interfaces, and regenerating the heart following heart attacks. Session two included perspectives on the current regulatory oversight of NHP research from representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, an institutional official, a laboratory animal veterinarian, and an institutional animal care and use committee chairperson.
Following each session, the panel discussed how the NHP research community could be more effective. Suggestions included enhancing data sharing, improving public education on NHP research, better characterizing NHP models, and developing ethical criteria for animal oversight committees. Following the discussions, Dr. Wolinetz summarized the public comments that were submitted via the web prior to and during the workshop.